ONE of the most evocative images in the world, the landmark Hollywood Sign’s 14m-tall, 11m-long white letters speak volumes about the culture of the city itself, bringing to mind the fame, fortune, glamour and power of the place where dreams can come true.
To the west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, California, Hollywood has become a cultural icon and the place to be for movie stars and movie studios. Every year, thousands of tourists with stars in their eyes visit the city to get a glimps of fame, touring TV and film studios and getting a look inside the lives of their favourite celebrities.
A plethora of tour options give visitors the chance to spot a celebrity crush, be it an actor, musician, model or socialite. At about US$10, the cheapest star-spotting option is to buy a ‘star map’ highlighting the addresses of Hollywood residents.
The drawback is that tourists will need to make their own way around the city by foot, bus or taxi, and – of course – celebrity sightings cannot be guaranteed.
Alternatively, many organised, air conditioned bus and coach tours operate around the city, pointing out celebrity homes and places of interest. These can be targeted towards particular movies or celebrities, finding out the secrets of the stars or visiting locations featured on the silver screen. Star tours can also combine photo opportunities at the Hollywood Sign and the Hollywood Walk of Fame (a series of bronze stars dedicated to celebrities, embedded in a public sidewalk stretching along
both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street), with visits to the famous shopping street Rodeo Drive, which spans three city blocks and is home to more than 100 world-renowned boutiques and hotels; and the Sunset Strip, a 1.5 mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard featuring an eclectic collection of shopping boutiques, restaurants and night clubs interspersed with an iconic collection of huge, colourful advertising billboards.
For those more interested in how Hollywood ‘works’, selected film and television studios open their doors for tours. There is also the option of purchasing audience tickets to view the filming of live TV programs, mostly comedies or talk shows. Tickets for live tapings are available from Audiences Unlimited, Audience Associates, Free TV Tickets and Television Ticket Co, and it is advisable to purchase tickets in advance.
Universal Studios combines the full theme park experience with ‘back lot’ tours, providing the opportunity to learn about special effects and visit well-known
Studio tours are also available at: Warner Bros Studios, famed for the Harry Potter series, Happy Feet, Sex and the City and The Dark Knight; Paramount Studio, whose notable releases include Vanilla Sky, Titanic, Puss in Boots, Forrest Gump and Star Trek; Paramount Ranch, a site that has been used to depict Tombstone, Arizona
and Dodge City for more than 60 years, and which has been used for the filming of TV series including Dukes of Hazzard, Charlie’s Angels and Dr Quinn, Medicine
Woman, as well as many classic Western movies; Sony Pictures, which houses film companies Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures; and NBC TV Studio, the only commercial TV station in Los Angeles that offers a behind-the-scenes tour of its facilities.
For those whose fascination is piqued by the darker side of Hollywood, the Dearly Departed tour is sure to fit the bill. With its ‘Tragical History’ tours, participants can experience the delightfully twisted underbelly of Tinsel Town.
The tour visits close to 100 scenes of celebrity scandal and death, including sites of famous and gruesome murders (the parents of the Menendez brothers, Sal Mineo, Elizabeth ‘the Black Dahlia’ Short and Rebecca Schaeffer) and places where celebrities have taken their last breaths (Michael Jackson, Jean Harlow, Janis Joplin and River Phoenix), and provides opportunities to relive the stars’ most embarrassing moments (with special attention given to Hugh Grantand George Michael).
The same company also offers the Helter Skelter tour: a three-hour, multi-media tour visiting the sites of the brutal Tate and LaBianca murders carried out by the Manson Family allowing participants to learn about and discuss the crimes as the tour hosts reconstruct the lives of both killers and victims, along with the aftermath.
In the same vein is a trip to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery: the beautifully landscaped resting place of Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone of punk band The Ramones; early pop icon and sex symbol Rudolph Valentino; actor, screenwriter, director and producer Douglas Fairbanks; and director and producer Cecil B DeMille.
The cemetery also hosts cultural events such as music performances and film screenings.
Hollywood is accessible internationally through the Los Angeles International Airport or domestically through the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
International car rental agencies have branches at both airports and throughout Los Angeles for self-drive options, while Bus 58 from the main Greyhound terminal in Downtown LA makes the 10-minute trip to Union Station, where the Metro Rail Red Line connects to Hollywood. Some Greyhound busses also go directly to a terminal in Hollywood.
By Rachel Dall y-Watkins